Knowing Your Roots

Archive for the ‘Feeding your Family’ Category

Water – The Critically Important Resource for our Nation’s Food Security

Blog 16

In this current blog series we have been featuring graduate student research on potatoes in Wisconsin, and so far we have covered research in plant breeding, seed production and pest management. We are concluding this student series with 4 blogs on a topic that has emerged as one of the most critical issues facing agriculture today—water.  Will there be a sufficient supply in the coming decades to maintain the productivity and security of our nation’s food supply while guaranteeing the long-term sustainability of the resource in future generations for all to enjoy?

In Wisconsin, the issue of water and its availability is particularly acute in the Central Sands region, which is one of the top five vegetable growing regions in the nation where potatoes, sweet corn, green beans, peas, carrots and cucumbers all rank near the top of U.S. production.  The foundation of the region’s productivity lies in its geological history, which began during the glacial ice age that encompassed Wisconsin over 15,000 years ago.  The Central Sands is a large and relatively flat glacial outwash plain that deposited abundant sandy soils—ideal for vegetable production—and is underlain by a deep groundwater aquifer that provides the water, vital for crop growth and productivity.

The region covers nearly 1,400 square miles and now supports 200,000 irrigated acres, but prior to the 1950s it was not farmed because there was no efficient way to utilize the abundant water supply and as such, much of the area remained undeveloped.  In the mid-1950s, however, this largely unused, resource-poor area was transformed rapidly when modern irrigation technology became available and affordable due to aluminum supplies increasing after World War II.  This raw material provided farmers the ability to build and deploy the center pivot irrigation systems that could, for the first time, deliver water to 160 acre crop fields in less than 24 hours.  This quickly transformed the regional economic landscape into a thriving specialty crop production area which now supports a $6.4 billion food production industry and generates close to 40,000 jobs within the state of Wisconsin.   (more…)

How do potatoes get to your holiday table? – It all begins with the seed!

Blog 7

Potatoes, we love them, particularly at this time of year. Thanksgiving is close, and it just would not be the same without those creamy mashed potatoes to accompany your turkey and cranberries. Did you know that Wisconsin ranks 3rd in US potato production?  Did you know that the potatoes you are enjoying actually began life anywhere from 5-8 years before they got to your plate?  Probably not, but during the next few blog posts we would like to introduce you the exciting journey that your potato takes from a lab in Madison, to isolated farms in pristine Northwest Wisconsin and even a trip to Hawaii for a lucky few. This is the process needed to produce the disease-free seed tubers that potato growers must plant to meet all your culinary potato needs.  We hope these next blog posts will help illuminate this fascinating journey.

Potatoes are not grown from actual seeds, but come from daughter tubers (seed pieces) that carry all the traits of the mother plant. To be certain that plants are disease-free, true to variety and carry only the traits such as color, texture and taste that consumers desire, the journey starts in labs on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus.  The Wisconsin Seed Potato Improvement Program, the first of its kind in the US, is funded by Wisconsin potato growers and directed  by Dr. Amy Charkowski of the UW-Department of Plant Pathology. Here, disease-free potato plants representing hundreds of varieties and characteristics are maintained. In the winter, tiny tissue slivers are grown into small plants in sterile test tubes. These tiny plants, the forerunners of your favorite baked or mashed potato, are then cut into even smaller pieces and grown into plantlets that have roots and leaves of their own.  Every spring, thousands of these plantlets are driven from Madison to an isolated UW Elite Seed farm in northern Wisconsin, close to Rhinelander. Once there, they are placed in protected hydroponic greenhouses, where they can grow over the summer and produce hundreds of pea to marble-sized mini-tubers, which represent the future of the potato industry. Over 400,000 mini-tubers are produced in Wisconsin using this method every year.   (more…)

What makes a great potato? – The science of breeding for the future

Blog 2

Go to your supermarket these days and you will see an emerging trend in the fruit and vegetable section – an increasing array of varieties on display that are specifically designed to meet consumer demands. Apples lead the way with dozens of different varieties on display with specific tastes, textures and uses. Other food favorites are jumping on the apple bandwagon with potatoes now joining the chase.  Five years ago your potato choices were likely to be limited to russets, round whites and reds, served up in small or large bags with cost often being the a prime driver.  Now, potato choices have rapidly changed as new varieties with multiple colors, shapes and sizes are part of the consumer’s palate.  Today’s consumers are looking for specific varieties based on how they taste and whether they are using them for fries, chips, baked, mashed or salads.

The evolution of choice in potatoes is moving fast now but it has taken generations of painstaking and exacting science to get to where we are today.  Over the coming weeks, the New Family Farm site will explore the art and science of breeding potatoes through the work of graduate students.  Since the beginning of agriculture, humans have been identifying, creating and refining new varieties of food plants for their productivity, appearance and culinary characteristics.  This process, known as plant breeding, continues to help improve potatoes to meet the evolving needs of society by bringing together the skills of several disciplines such as genetics, molecular biology, plant pathology, engineering and others.

The first step in plant breeding is to create individuals with novel genetics that may express the traits we are seeking.  Just as humans create children by combining their genetic makeups, potatoes can be enhanced through genetics. Most new potato varieties are created by “mating” or cross pollinating existing varieties with other varieties, or ancestors, with the goal of combining the best characteristics of the parents to create a new potato that has the features we desire.  Those green, tomato-like fruits, formed on pollinated potato plants contain hundreds of seeds, each one genetically distinct. It takes the artistry of the breeders to grow these thousands upon thousands of seeds in the greenhouse, identify the traits they express, select the most promising, re-cross to obtain the best balance and ultimately propagate them in the field. It can take years to develop a promising new potential variety.   (more…)

Water is the Most Precious Resource for Wisconsin’s Potato and Vegetable Growers

Blog 30

Water use is a critical issue in central Wisconsin, and the Wisconsin Potato & Vegetable Growers Association (WPVGA), as well as its grower members are committed to the judicious use of this most precious resource.

WPVGA formed The Water Task Force in 2009 to bring together resources and expertise to foster the sustainable use of water resources in the Central Sands. The committee was also formed to develop and promote responsible water use practices that will protect the groundwater aquifer of the Central Sands and its associated streams, lakes and wetlands.

The goal of the Wisconsin potato and vegetable growers is to do this in a way that ensures a sustainable agricultural industry for future generations, fosters vibrant rural communities and respects the needs of all its citizens.

The WPVGA Water Task Force has already made remarkable progress in advancing all of its objectives. For example, to increase understanding of the hydrology of the Central Sands, the Task Force has initiated a program to measure groundwater depths in privately-owned irrigation wells across space and time. They have purchased and installed equipment to continuously monitor groundwater in four areas designated as high risk for surface water impacts. They have also commissioned and funded a study by the Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey to expand understanding of tunnel channel lakes in high risk areas and their interaction with groundwater–this study has since expanded into a significant modeling project funded by NRCS.   (more…)

Farm Perspectives – Produce Traceability Initiative

 

Many years ago there was a connection between the consumer and the farmer and that connection created a level of trust.  Before the days of large national retailers local produce was a way of life and it was likely that you knew the farmer that grew the food that was being sold at your corner grocery store.  If you didn’t know him, you knew of him and where he was from.

As retailers grew, so did farms.  Instead of selling produce locally the geography of markets expanded, national chains developed distribution centers and produce was shipped further and further away from where it was grown.  This expansion created a disconnect between the producer and the consumer despite the fact that the produce was just as healthy and just as good for you.

Traceability - Bushmans Inc BlogThe Produce Traceability Initiative (PTI) is designed to do many things, but one of the most important is to help foster that connection between where the food is grown and the consumer.  By being able to trace food back to its place of birth a consumer has a much higher comfort level with that produce and in the consumer’s mind creates that connection back to the land, which is something we should support and embrace as producers.

Of course there are other practical reasons to embrace PTI, the least of which is quickly becoming mandatory when doing business with larger retailers. Being able to trace produce back to the field level is no longer a luxury.  It is quickly becoming a requirement to participate in the marketplace.  Growers who resist implementing PTI will ultimately find themselves on the outside looking in and will ultimately have difficulty finding outlets for their product.    (more…)

Tag Cloud